In Dan Trachtenberg's Ideal World, Fans Wouldn't Have Immediately Known Prey Was A Predator Film

"Prey" boasts the sort of inventive high-concept that movie franchises could use more of. In a nutshell, it's "Predator" but set in the Great Plains of the 1700s. The hero is not a musclebound mercenary like Arnold Schwarzenegger's Dutch, but a Comanche girl named Naru (Amber Midthunder) who aspires to be a hunter. Even when it hits familiar beats, the unique setting ensures that "Prey" remains its own beast.

The film is so far removed from the usual setting of a "Predator" movie that the first shots of a spaceship and cloaked alien feel surreal. If you didn't know that "Prey" was a "Predator" film ahead of time, it would be a jaw-dropping moment. However, the realities of modern movie marketing — where the usual goal is to remind audiences of something they already know about — ensure that no one had this experience. 

According to director Dan Trachtenberg, he wishes "Prey" could've been marketed with a stronger sense of surprise.

A teaser with no title

In an interview with SFFGazette, Trachtenberg was asked if he wished that the connection between "Prey" and "Predator" could've been kept hidden longer. The director admitted that this would be "almost not possible" due to marketing needs, but it's still something he tried to make happen. Trachtenberg recounted:

"In the initial pitch for the movie... the first trailer would not have a title. You would see the setup of Naru, what she's experiencing in her tribe, and her setting off to prove herself. When she goes off into the woods, there was a fire in the sky, and that would be it. Then, closer to the release of the movie, we'd see a fuller trailer that would include the bear going after her and then being lifted up by the Predator. That would have been the announcement of what this movie was. That was my favorite version of releasing it, so you'd get to have that secret movie excitement, but without taking it all the way because people need to know what movie they're going to see."

"Prey" was initially announced as "Skulls," in 2019. Then, the film was summarized as, "a Comanche woman... goes against gender norms and traditions to become a warrior," with no mention of "Predator." In 2020, to Tratchenberg's disappointment, the film was confirmed to be a "Predator" movie before marketing had begun. That left Tratchenberg's intended marketing strategy kaput.

Tratchenberg's track record

Tratchenberg's preferred marketing strategy for "Prey" resembles that of his debut feature, "10 Cloverfield Lane." That film was produced under the title, "Valencia." Its title, and connection to "Cloverfield," were only revealed when the first trailer dropped on January 15, 2016, a mere two months before the film hit theaters. Even the film's cast was left in the dark.

It's a common complaint these days that Hollywood won't greenlight anything that isn't part of a franchise. "10 Cloverfield Lane" exploited this. The marketing used its surprise connection to "Cloverfield" to lure people in for what was, in practice, a standalone thriller. However, the ad team at 20th Century Studios clearly wasn't gung-ho enough to replicate this. Instead, they decided to broadcast the connection between "Prey" and "Predator" upfront. 

To their credit, this approach did pay off. Hulu says "Prey" earned the highest viewing numbers for a premiere on their platform ever. A more subtle marketing strategy, without the selling point of the Predator upfront, probably wouldn't have paid off the same dividends.